Today we saw two companies get gobbled up, both selling well known and respected paid applications in the Mac space. Both seemingly do a good business. Both acquired for the talent of the employees, not the products they sell — as such the products for both will be gone soon enough.
I wasn’t going to write about this, because neither was particularly interesting, but then a few tweets and emails later and I have been asked to defend a rather popular post of mine: “Fragility of Free“.
In that post I argue that choosing to use free apps is a bad idea, because often free apps will die off because the developer can no longer support the apps. I state (sorry for quoting myself):
The fragility of free is a catchy term that describes what happens when the free money runs out. Or — perhaps more accurately — when the investors/founders/venture capitalists run out of cash, or patience, or both. Because at some point Twitter and all other companies have to make the move from ‘charity’ to ‘business’ — or, put another way, they have to make the move from spending tons of money to making slightly more money than they spend.
My argument is that nothing can continue to be free forever. At some point you are going to pay for it, by viewing ads, exchanging money, or having to switch to something else because your free thing is gone — dead. Now we see a situation where a paid app is gone and dead — the very thing that I was arguing for — but the truth is a paid app is simply more secure than free, certainly not foolproof.
This happens with free software and services, sometimes with paid services (but that is far less likely). Sometimes the funding for free just runs out — perhaps it was just someones hobby, a hobby that you depended on — doesn’t matter because it is gone now.
Sparrow is gone now. Perhaps it lives on as part of Google, but Sparrow as we knew it yesterday is effectively dead.
So how do you stop this from happening to another app that you depend on?
If you want to keep the software and services around that you enjoy, do what you can to make their businesses successful enough that it’s more attractive to keep running them than to be hired by a big tech company.
I think the key part here is “more attractive”, it would be easy to say “more lucrative”, but inaccurate. I know far too many people who are willing to be paid less to do something that they enjoy more. Such is the case right here on this site, I took a pay cut to rid my site of ads — I did this willingly and (from a readers perspective) unnecessarily. It is simply more attractive for me to blog without ads, and more attractive for Marco (I assume) to work from home on his own schedule, on a product that he has passion for.
Paid doesn’t solve everything, but free solves next to nothing.